by Tyler Kingkade
A majority of colleges have rules in place severely restricting free speech on campus, according to a new report released Friday.
The 2014 report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found 59 percent of higher education institutions have policies that the group believes infringe on First Amendment rights.
The report reviewed policies regarding speech in student codes of conduct at 427 colleges and universities around the country. In addition to the 59 percent identified as restricting free speech, FIRE issued a “yellow light” rating to another 35.6 percent of schools because they have “policies that overregulate speech on campus.”
But FIRE pointed out the situation is actually a substantial improvement from six years ago, when the organization said three-fourths of colleges were violating constitutional free speech rights.
Some of the examples FIRE cites as free speech violations are attempts to mitigate or prevent harassment and bullying among students.
The foundation picked on the University of Connecticut for prohibiting people from “actions that intimidate, humiliate, or demean persons or groups, or that undermine their security or self-esteem.” UConn is currently under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for, among other allegations, declining to assist a student who received rape and death threats and constant harassment as a result of an op-ed she wrote criticizing the university’s new logo.
The group also advocated for people to tweet directly at the University of South Carolina because the school prohibits “teasing,” “ridiculing,” and “insulting.”
The group believes schools violate First Amendment protections in their attempts to stop harassment. FIRE’s Director of Policy Research Samantha Harris said in a statement, “the Department of Education needs to make clear to universities, once and for all, that prohibiting harassment does not mean restricting protected speech.”
FIRE frequently focuses on public colleges since they are required to abide by the First Amendment. But private schools also face scrutiny from the group.
FIRE president Greg Lukianoff has raised alarm about Harvard University, for instance, because administrators admitted to reviewing faculty emails in the midst of a cheating scandal. Lukianoff compared it to the government spying featured in 1984 by George Orwell.